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Saturday, 20 July 2013 02:59

Winthrop Chandler (1747–1790) is the first known American artist to paint American landscapes that have survived. The artists who painted American landscapes prior to Chandler are either unknown, were not born in America, or if they were, did not paint American scenes.1 An American, Sibyl Huntington May, painted an overmantel with people, animals, and her husband’s church, for his parsonage in Haddam, Connecticut, sometime after its completion in 1758.2 However, she only painted a single work.

Thursday, 18 July 2013 05:51

We now recognize Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900) as one of America’s great artists of the nineteenth century. Further, many believe his work done in Maine includes some of his most important images, with Twilight in the Wilderness (Fig. 1), based on a sunset he had sketched at Bar Harbor, Maine, a few years earlier, ranking among the dozen greatest paintings in the history of American art.

Thursday, 18 July 2013 05:24

In 1950, Andrew Wyeth completed a large, dark, and unsettling painting of three vultures flying above the Pennsylvania countryside (Fig.1). He called the work Soaring. The product of an unusually long and somewhat tumultuous creative gestation, this magisterial view of scavengers in flight preoccupied the painter for the better part of a decade—a period that not only witnessed his emergence as an artist of national reputation but also coincided with the rise of a new morality brought about by the horrors of World War II and the pervasive tensions of the Cold War. Although Wyeth abandoned the effort more than once, the final painting is today recognized as an early landmark in a long and influential career. Like many of Wyeth’s best efforts—the contemporaneous Christina’s World of 1948 is but one example—Soaring is both accessible and ambiguous. It is elliptical to the point of being ominous. As a representational drama in an era that prized abstraction, the painting is an outlier that rewards close observation for what it reveals about mid-century American visual culture.

Thursday, 18 July 2013 05:10

A constant complaint voiced by early settlers of Philadelphia and its environs was that “they scarcely knew how time passed, nor that they hardly knew the day of Rest, or the Lord’s day, when it was.”1 William Penn (1644–1718), Pennsylvania’s founder, was among them when he insisted that city residents have a means for telling time so that “the hours for work and meals to Labourers are fixt, and known.”2 Their need to know the time of day and day of the week set the stage for the arrival of Peter Stretch (1670–1746), one of early America’s most celebrated clockmakers.

Saturday, 25 May 2013 03:37

Philadelphia was founded in 1684, decades behind Boston, Massachusetts (1630), Newport, Rhode Island (1624), and New York City (1639). Nonetheless, thanks to the navigable Delaware River, Pennsylvania’s rich farmland, and the tolerant attitude of its founding fathers, it quickly grew to eclipse in population, wealth, and commerce all coastal port cities in the British North American colonies. Many visitors marveled at the vitality of its merchants and commented on the industrious nature of its artisans, who included cabinetmakers, silversmiths, wheelwrights, cordwainers (shoemakers), potters, and blacksmiths.

Friday, 24 May 2013 04:58

Old Sturbridge Village recently had the rare opportunity to purchase two important Nathan Lombard (1777–1847) furniture pieces: a drop-leaf table and a chest of drawers (Figs.1, 2). In recent years, Nathan Lombard has gained widespread acclaim for his intricately inlaid furniture, which is as delightful to the eye today as it would have been in the early 1800s, when these objects were produced. Yet, Lombard’s repertoire also included more utilitarian forms with simplified inlay meant to reach a more diverse clientele. Indeed, OSV’s pieces were part of everyday life for one New England family, who left their imprint on these pieces after generations of use.

Friday, 24 May 2013 04:49

Schoolgirl academies, especially in New England, have been the subject of extensive investigation during the last ninety years. Pioneering researchers such as Ethel Bolton and Eva Coe, Glee Krueger, Jane Nylander, Joan Stephens, and especially Betty Ring have identified the major schools, their teachers and students, and the salient characteristics of the students’ output. New facts occasionally come to light, however, that allow us to connect a little-known school and the body of work its students created.

Friday, 24 May 2013 04:39

When Ronald G. Pisano and I began to frequent New York galleries, private dealers, and auctions in the early 1970s, in-depth research on American art and artists was pretty much in its infancy. Few universities had art history programs geared to American art, and the market was still fluid in terms of ordering artists on any hierarchical scale related to importance or value. In short we were on our own. Collecting was at times both frustrating and exhilarating, and certainly not dull. We met many colorful characters along the way, and came to know the “ins and outs” of collecting and the gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, foibles of other collectors, dealers, artist descendants, scholars, and curators. Collecting demanded full attention to detail and sometimes quick decision making; and we came to know the difference between simply accumulating and collecting with a point of view to achieve a cohesive and focused collection of American art. In short, it was a great adventure.

Friday, 24 May 2013 04:27

From 1918 until 1934, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) lived for part of the year at Alfred Stieglitz’s (1864–1946) family estate in Lake George, located in New York’s Adirondack Park. The thirty-six-acre property was situated along the western shore, in the southern basin of the thirty-mile-long glacial lake popularly known as “the Queen of American lakes.” O’Keeffe typically stayed at Lake George from spring to fall and reveled in the discovery of new subject matter while finding respite in the bucolic setting of the Stieglitz property, a former farm. She enjoyed long walks through the wooded hillsides and hikes up Prospect Mountain to take in the spectacular view of the lake’s mountain-rimmed waters. In her humble studio, nicknamed the “shanty,” O’Keeffe found a place to concentrate on her work without the distractions of city life and the intrusions of the gregarious Stieglitz family who congregated at the lake house in the summer months. In 1923, she enthusiastically wrote to her friend, the writer Sherwood Anderson, “I wish you could see the place here—there is something so perfect about the mountains and the lake and the trees—Sometimes I want to tear it all to pieces—it seems so perfect—but it is really lovely—And when the household is in good running order—and I feel free to work it is very nice.”

Friday, 24 May 2013 04:01

Today, with GPS and MapQuest at our fingertips, maps often function simply as navigational tools, but historically they played a much more diverse role, shaping everything from commercial to social activities. Common Destinations: Maps in the American Experience at Winterthur takes you on a journey through two centuries that included colonial wars, nation building, and industrialization. It features selections from Winterthur’s collection of traditional maps in a variety of formats as well as rare map-related objects such as pocket globes, ladies’ fans, and printed handkerchiefs.

Friday, 24 May 2013 03:56

For more than thirty years, Philadelphians Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz––he is a lawyer, she is a ceramicist––have been drawn to the work of self-taught artists, individuals who are not trained in art schools, do not earn a living as artists, and who, for the most part, have limited or no connection to the mainstream art world with its dealers, galleries, collectors, critics, schools, and museums. During those three decades the couple has formed one of the finest collections of American outsider art in private hands. Intending that a wider public should eventually enjoy these works, they have made a promised gift of most of them to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This generous donation is celebrated by an exhibition, “Great and Mighty Things”: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection.

Friday, 10 May 2013 04:07

Edward Hopper (1882–1967) and his work have been endlessly described, critiqued, analyzed, dissected, and reassembled, both during his lifetime and since he left this world almost half a century ago. He has been stereotyped by the images that stay fixed in our minds, with the late-night diner scene in Nighthawks the most noteworthy example. Nevertheless, Hopper can still offer up some surprises. One of these is that between 1927 and 1938, in his relentless search for new subjects to paint, Edward Hopper made at least five summer trips into Vermont with his wife, Josephine Nivison Hopper (1883–1968) (Fig. 1), with two extended stays on a farm in South Royalton. The less than two dozen paintings of farm buildings and rural landscapes that Hopper made in central Vermont are relatively unknown within this famous artist’s repertoire. Unique works with ties to specific times and places, they contrast sharply with Hopper’s urban paintings, and they are distinctive even in comparison to Hopper’s works from elsewhere in New England.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 02:20

Belair Mansion in Bowie, Maryland, was completed in 1747 for Maryland governor Samuel Ogle and his wife, Anne Tasker Ogle. Known by their contemporaries as tastemakers and avid horse enthusiasts, Belair originally functioned as a summer home, profitable tobacco plantation, stud farm, and comfortable retreat enjoyed by the likes of Benjamin Franklin. After falling out of Ogle hands in 1871 and into disrepair, Belair Mansion was rescued from ruin, in 1898, by the Woodwards, a New York banking family. They hired the famed architectural firm Delano & Aldrich update its infrastructure and appearance by adding plumbing and opposite wings between 1904 and 1914. Following the untimely 1955 death of the last Woodward owner, “Billy” Jr., the Mansion and estate were put up for sale. William J. Levitt, of Levittown fame, purchased the farm in 1957 and initially developed the land with an eye for profit rather than preservation. Later, Levitt honored the mansion’s historic value when he sold it to the City of Bowie for $1 so long as it remained in the public trust. Serving as the City Hall from 1964 to 1978, thereafter the mansion once again fell out of use but not the public eye. By 1980 a group of Bowie citizens created the Friends of the Belair Estate to assist the City of Bowie in raising funds to restore the structure to support a local museum.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 02:12

Part of the excitement of collecting is the discovery. Such is the case with the blanket chest in the front entry. Sold at a farm auction in Pennsylvania, it was covered with dirt, obscuring the painted surface. The collectors had faith there was something there, so they purchased it and hired conservator Peter Dean to clean the surface, revealing the wonderful grained paint with tulips and hearts on the lid. One of two Delaware Valley ladder-back chairs, with five rather than the more typical four slats, is temporary home to “Woody,” one of five cats who live with the couple. “The cats are part of our lives and live with the antiques as much as we do,” says the husband. “They have never damaged anything, though we do put adhesive on the bottom of the stoneware to hold it in place just in case.” A watercolor by Joseph H. Davis (1811–1865), depicting a couple at a table, was acquired from Greg Kramer; it hangs beside a full-length portrait of a young girl, purchased from the Lester Breininger sale. The girl and two works that face one another, acquired from Greg Kramer, as well as the other child are by Jacob Maentel (1763–1863); the image of a woman in blue is by an unknown artist. Before he became an auctioneer, Ron Pook was the underbidder for the iron candleholder with heart-shaped pedestal. The sampler, with house and willow tree, behind the stair rails, is from McConnelsburg; there are few identified from this area of Western Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 01:39

In 1928, novelist Sinclair Lewis purchased a three-hundred-acre farm in Barnard, Vermont, as a wedding gift for his bride, foreign correspondent Dorothy Thompson. The property, Twin Farms, which was first cultivated in 1793, soon became the hub of the couple’s sophisticated circle, who included German war refugees, film producer Karl Zuckmayer and his Austrian actress wife, Alice Herndon. Alice’s memoir of life at Twin Farms, The Little Farm in the Green Mountains, was a postwar best seller in Europe.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 01:30

Since 1845 Boston’s New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has been collecting, preserving, and interpreting materials that tell the stories of America’s families. While “doing one’s genealogy” has always been a popular pastime, “who we are and where we’ve come from” has received unprecedented exposure in the past decade. Prime time television programs such as Finding Your Roots (hosted by NEHGS trustee Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and introduced each week on PBS from the society’s headquarters) and websites like and the NEHGS’ award-winning have attracted millions of people, all seeking clues to their past. Long a leader in genealogical research and with more than 65,000 members and registered users of its website throughout the world, NEHGS has been both a catalyst for and a beneficiary of this tremendous surge of interest in family history studies.

Sunday, 17 March 2013 00:27

A remarkable group of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century birth records has survived. Attributed to the “New Jersey Artist,” the twenty records were created for fourteen prosperous families of English descent living in Burlington County, New Jersey. Beginning in 1677, Burlington County was settled by members of the Society of Friends. In 1745 they comprised 50 percent of the county’s population––more than in any other county in the state.1 Of the families whose birth records are attributed to the artist, eight were members of the Society of Friends, four families show no evidence of ever being Friends,2 and it is unclear if the remaining two families were members of the Society, since only one member of each couple was raised as a Friend.3 The birth records show a beautiful and colorful world, full of fantasy and leisure, far from the stereotypical image of Friends dressed in somber colors toiling on their farms, as shown in such paintings as The Residence of David Twining by the painter and Society of Friends minister, Edward Hicks (1780–1849).

Sunday, 17 March 2013 00:06

A window was opened in early 2007 on a prominent eighteenth-century Salem cabinetmaker’s business with the discovery of the ledgers of Nathaniel Gould (1734–1781) at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The documents consist of two day, or waste, books, the first with entries from 1758–1763 and the second covering the period 1767–1784.1 A third book, a ledger of accounts on credit, covers the years 1763­–1784 and partially fills in the four missing years of the day books. These documents reveal a highly competent businessman who sold furniture to the highest level of Salem society, in particular, the prominent Cabot family, one of the wealthiest shipping and merchant families of New England.

Saturday, 16 March 2013 23:51

“Should you make the purchase, we will have more of the Monets than I think we will care for, but it strikes me we can sell some of those we now have, and thereby greatly improve our collection.” With this, an industrialist from the small town of Naugatuck, Connecticut, advised his twenty-eight-year-old son, honeymooning in Paris in 1893, to buy another Monet.

Saturday, 16 March 2013 23:37

In 2009 the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) at Old Salem, North Carolina, more than doubled its collection of Georgia-made decorative arts. The museum celebrated this achievement with an exhibit entitled “A Land of Liberty and Plenty”: Georgia Decorative Arts 1733–1860.” Important objects from the pioneering Georgia decorative arts collection of Florence and Bill Griffin joined a small nucleus of objects acquired by MESDA’s founder Frank L. Horton over the museum’s first forty years. Several other objects were acquired as part of the museum’s ongoing effort to better represent the decorative arts of its seven constituent states: Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Together these Georgia objects—old friends and new acquisitions—tell the unique antebellum story of a place where the “Old South” of the Atlantic Coast meets the “Deep South” of the Gulf of Mexico.